NJ desperately needs more nurses. To get them, we need to invest in nursing education. | Opinion

By Bonnie Ross

I chose to study nursing back in 1978 because I realized how much I enjoy helping people from all walks of life become the healthiest version of themselves. Unfortunately, there is a choice for nursing students around the country. In New Jersey alone, over half of the associate degree programs were forced to refuse qualified applicants because of a lack of clinical sites and limited classroom space.

For the past 20 years, I have been fortunate to call myself a nurse educator, teach student nurses at the bedside, share my knowledge and experience in the classroom, mentor faculty, leading curriculum revisions, and learn to grow as a leader during the pandemic . Nurse educators are critical in preparing the next generation of nurses. With New Jersey increasing by 64% in 2021, it is more important than ever to support and raise the voices of nurse educators.

Nurse educators are brave. We face many obstacles in healthcare and higher education, including being overworked and underpaid. Yet high quality learning experiences.

Nurse educators are resilient. We are bright and intuitive. In response to the challenges of the pandemic, nurse educators continue to receive the quality of clinical training while facilitating the development of critical thinking, clinical reasoning and sound judgment through online learning. With more investment in nurse education, we can help prevent burnout so they can continue to thrive.

Nurse educators are innovative. We continue to learn and strive to create alternative learning experiences for the classroom, lab, and clinical settings while adapting to the rapidly and continuously changing health care arena. Nurse educators are working with evidence-based technology and pursuing best practices as we prepare our students for the Next Generation NCLEX licensing exam and their future careers.

Nurse educators are role models for students. Many students share how they didn’t know what to do until they started their nursing studies. We are equipped to manage the dynamic, complex needs of patients. Educators’ compassion is critical to fostering future generations of nurses.

During this unprecedented time in nursing education, many faculty are stressed and overwhelmed. Some one-third of current faculty nationwide are expected to retire by 2025 – a trend that is lacking in clinical sites, often inadequate resources, and time pressures.

Nurse faculty shortages are a threat to the nursing pipeline. Nearly 92,000 qualified applications were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs across the country in 2021 due to factors like limited faculty. Here in New Jersey, 8% of full-time registered nursing faculty positions and 13% of full-time licensed practical nursing faculty positions were vacant in 2020, making it harder to educate more students. Unfortunately, these challenges have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. But we are on the brink of an opportunity to positively influence our profession by reimagining and transforming nursing education.

We need to attract, admit, and retain more nursing students by making nursing a more accessible career path. We need to increase the capacity and capability of clinical training opportunities and partnerships, invest in innovative education resources, and encourage and incentivize more nurses to become faculty. And we need to ensure students are prepared for nursing school, pass licensure exams, and apply their skills. New Jersey’s limited supply of nurses and continue to help people through quality nursing care.

I’m hopeful for the future of nursing education. But nurse educators can’t do it alone. With the support of nursing education from policy leaders and stakeholders, we have ensured that there is a vibrant profession for years to come – one that will continue to positively impact students, patients, providers, and the entire health care system.

Bonnie Ross, EdD RN CNE, is a former nurse educator from Rumson and currently serves as the ATI Nursing Education Consultant.

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